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LCQ12: Railway Development Strategy 2014
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     Following is a question by Dr the Hon Kenneth Chan and a written reply by the Secretary for Transport and Housing, Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, in the Legislative Council today (November 20):

Question:

     The Railway Development Strategy 2014 (the Strategy) announced by the Government in September this year provides a framework for planning the development of Hong Kong's railway network.  On the basis of the outcome of the public engagement exercise and the recommendations made by a consultant, the Government recommends in the Strategy that seven new railway projects (namely the Northern Link and Kwu Tung Station, the Tuen Mun South Extension, the East Kowloon Line, the Tung Chung West Extension, Hung Shui Kiu Station, the South Island Line (West) and the North Island Line (NIL)) be implemented in or before 2026.  In addition, the three schemes (i.e. "Extension", "Bifurcation" and "Feeder" Schemes) of the Siu Sai Wan Line (SSWL) will not be taken forward before 2031 due to insufficient economic and financial benefits.  Regarding the future railway development of Hong Kong, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the assessment indicators (including feasibility, construction cost, cost-effectiveness, competitiveness, construction constraints and environmental impact, etc.) adopted by the consultant commissioned by the Government for considering the three schemes of SSWL and the assessment outcome; how such assessment indicators and outcome compare with the assessment indicators and outcome of the seven railway projects recommended to be constructed (set out by name of project and indicator);

(2) given that according to the statistics of the Government, the current population of the Eastern District is close to 600 000, while the total population of Siu Sai Wan and its peripheral areas (including Tsui Wan, Yan Lam, King Yee and Yue Wan) has exceeded 70 000, and the Strategy has mentioned that "there was substantial local support in the Eastern District for the provision of railway service to Siu Sai Wan", of the criteria based on which the authorities decided not to take forward the three schemes of SSWL;

(3) given that the Strategy has mentioned that the NIL railway project will help "divert the harbour-crossing passenger traffic, relieve the loading of the Island Line and enhance railway access to the northern shore of Hong Kong Island", whether the authorities will, for the purpose of catering for the future development of the new harbourfront areas along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island, conduct a study on constructing piers in that area and resuming the services of the ferry routes which have been discontinued or enhancing the services of the existing routes, so as to promote the waterborne transport development in that area and connect various districts, thereby relieving the pressure on the railway network; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that and whether they have plans to conduct such a study; and

(4) given that certain parts of the alignment of the proposed NIL are parallel with that of the existing Island Line, and the former's Tamar, Exhibition and Causeway Bay North stations will be fairly close to the latter's Admiralty, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay stations respectively, whether the authorities will conduct a study on linking these stations by underground or elevated pedestrian walkways; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that and whether they have plans to conduct such a study?

Reply:

President,

     My reply to the respective parts of Dr the Hon Kenneth Chan's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) The Transport and Housing Bureau announced the Railway Development Strategy 2014 (RDS-2014) on September 17, 2014, providing a framework for planning the future expansion of Hong Kong's railway network up to 2031. The RDS-2014 recommends that seven new railway projects be completed in the planning horizon up to 2031 having regard to transport demand, cost-effectiveness and the development needs of New Development Areas and other new development projects.

     The RDS-2014 sets out the blueprint for territory-wide railway development based on the findings and final recommendations of the consultancy study.  Apart from giving due consideration to the views collected during the Public Engagement exercises in 2012 and 2013, it takes into account a wide range of factors, including transport demand, land use planning, local development needs, economic return of railway projects, financial and social benefits, environmental impact and engineering feasibility.

     In formulating the RDS-2014, our consultant explored three schemes for Siu Sai Wan Line (SSWL), namely the "Extension" Scheme, the "Bifurcation" Scheme and the "Feeder" Scheme.

     The "Extension" Scheme is a direct extension of the Island Line from the existing Chai Wan Station to Siu Sai Wan. The "Bifurcation" Scheme recommends the construction of a spur line bifurcating from the existing Heng Fa Chuen Station, such that east-bound trains will terminate alternately at the Chai Wan Station and a new station in Siu Sai Wan.  The "Feeder" Scheme features a dedicated medium capacity rail line that connects Siu Sai Wan to the Heng Fa Chuen Station, requiring passengers to interchange between this feeder and the Island Line.

     Among the three options, the public generally agreed that extending the Island Line to serve the Siu Sai Wan residents (that is the "Extension Scheme") would be the most preferred option as it would be the most convenient to passengers.  The construction cost for this option was estimated to be the highest amongst the three schemes.

     In respect of technical assessment, the Chai Wan end of the Island Line is currently surrounded by a number of buildings (such as residential buildings and malls) which block the extension of that line.  As such, the possibility of the "Extension" Scheme and its associated economic and financial benefits could only be further considered when the constraint is removed subsequent to the demolition of the buildings concerned for redevelopment.  Under the "Bifurcation" Scheme, the trains have to stop alternately at Chai Wan and Siu Sai Wan, meaning that the existing railway service to Chai Wan would have to run at a lower frequency and the operation of the Island Line would also be affected.  Moreover, the proposed alignment would pass through the Cargo Handling Basin, involving reclamation and difficult relocation of the Chai Wan Public Cargo Working Area.  Regarding the "Feeder" Scheme, there would also be considerable technical difficulties as it requires permanent occupation of some existing open space and community facilities, as well as the land of some Government, Institution and Community facilities.  Moreover, the new railway would possibly be built on viaduct as the Heng Fa Chuen Station of the Island Line is an above-ground station.  This may require demolition and reconstruction of existing vehicular bridge along the railway alignment.  Further, visual impact and noise nuisance are expected during the construction and operation stages as the railway viaduct would be very close to the nearby residents.

     While it is the Government's policy of using railways as the backbone of our passenger transport system in Hong Kong, we strive for building a diversified public transport system under which complementarity of various public transport modes could be enhanced for providing the travelling public with convenient transport services while allowing multi-modal choices.  At present, a large number of daytime and evening bus routes are available in Siu Sai Wan (a total of 23 bus routes).  Six green minibus routes in Siu Sai Wan also provide feeder service to Chai Wan station and Heng Fa Chuen Station of the ISL, with overnight service to and from Mong Kok East Station of the East Rail Line.  Using road-based transport modes, Siu Sai Wan residents may have access to various destinations directly or to different railway stations along the Island Line for onward journeys.

     Taking into account various factors, we are of the view that it is less urgent to take forward the SSWL by 2031, when comparing to the seven recommended railway schemes.

     As regards to the population figures of Siu Sai Wan and its peripheral areas mentioned by the Councillor, population is not the sole factor to take into consideration when we assess railway projects.  We also have to consider the existing and anticipated transport demand, public transport services currently available, engineering feasibility, economic and financial benefits, environmental impact, land use planning, etc.  As the existing road-based feeder services, such as franchised buses and public light buses, offer sufficiently convenient and reasonable choices to local residents and connect Siu Sai Wan to the existing railway stations, we do not recommend the implementation of the SSWL in the RDS-2014.

(3) Currently, there are many road-based public transport modes available for passengers travelling between the northern shore of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.  These road-based public transport modes, including MTR and cross-harbour buses, provide convenient point-to-point transport services for commuters.  But, ferries connect only the coastal areas on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon and have to rely on land transport for onward journeys to other places.  As a result, ferries have been facing immense competition in the market of public transport services and their patronages have shown no significant growth over the years. In fact, there have been cases in which fixed-route scheduled ferry services on both sides of the Victoria Harbour ceased operation due to insufficient patronage and persistent financial loss.   The two inner harbour ferry services "Hung Hom íV Central" and "Hung Hom íV Wan Chai" ferry routes are the examples.  These ferry services were suspended in April 2011 because no ferry operator submitted tender after two rounds of tender exercise.

     We understand that the northern shore of Hong Kong Island and the coastal areas of Kowloon will be developed mainly for low-density leisure use comprising harbourfront promenades in future.   The lack of regular and mass passenger demand for such facilities render it unviable to support the costly operation of fixed-route scheduled ferry services.  Hence, the Government currently has no plan to resume the suspended inner harbour ferry services and to construct new ferry piers.

     At present, there are a number of public piers, landing facilities and public landing steps along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island and the coastal areas of Kowloon for public use which include chartered and unscheduled waterborne passenger transport services.

(4) The taking forward of the NIL is contingent upon the outcome of detailed engineering, findings of environmental and financial studies, as well as updated assessment of passenger transport demand and availability of financial resources.  Prior to the finalization of any new railway schemes, we will certainly further consult the public on such details as the physical alignment, locations of stations, pedestrian links, mode of implementation, cost estimate, mode of financing and actual implementation window.

Ends/Thursday, November 20, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:30

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